Throughout the course of this week, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll stressed the importance of fundamentals and maintaining momentum heading towards the postseason.
Though the Seahawks had already clinched a playoff berth, they still hadn’t locked up the fifth seed in the NFC and needed a Week 17 win over the Arizona Cardinals to seal the deal. With plenty left to play for, Carroll hoped his team would finish the regular season on a strong note and take care of business against an opponent that had made a mockery of Seattle’s homefield advantage at CenturyLink Field in recent seasons.
While fans endured cruel and unusual punishment in the process, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks found a way to overcome self-inflicted wounds and stave off the irritating Cardinals for a 27-24 victory, notching double-digit wins for the sixth time in seven seasons.
“I know there’s a lot of concerns about the way this thing came off today, about the way we played,” Carroll said following the game. “But I really look at it like we stopped the streak. We hadn’t beaten these guys in three years here, so whatever it took to get it done, we finally got it done.”
As has become an unpleasant annual tradition in the rugged NFC West, the Seahawks struggled to put away the inferior Cardinals despite building an early two-score lead in the first half.
Rebounding from a badly-telegraphed interception on Seattle’s first possession of the game, Wilson set a franchise-record by throwing his 196th career touchdown pass, surpassing Dave Krieg on the all-time list with a 29-yard strike to a wide-open Lockett. His 35th touchdown pass of the season also established a new franchise single-season record.
On Arizona’s ensuing drive, Seahawks defensive end Jacob Martin committed rookie-on-rookie crime and forced a fumble on a strip-sack against quarterback Josh Rosen. Armed with fantastic starting field position, running back Chris Carson eventually punched it in from seven yards out to give Seattle a 14-3 lead and the rout appeared to be on.
But the Cardinals wouldn’t go quietly, aided by the Seahawks offensive futility, pass protection woes, and a series of horrid special teams miscues.
After forcing Arizona to punt, Seattle promptly went three-and-out and sent punter Michael Dickson onto the field intending to flip the field. Instead, reserve linebacker Dennis Gardeck managed to get a paw on the punt and the football traveled only 21 yards, setting the Cardinals up with prime field position.
Just three plays later, Rosen cashed in by throwing a 15-yard touchdown to legendary receiver Larry Fitzgerald to trim the deficit to four points. Arizona further cut into the lead with a field goal by Zane Gonzalez after Seattle allowed Pharoah Cooper to reverse field on a punt return and nearly take the ball back to the house on a 45-yard return.
If not for Rosen inexplicably taking a sack at the end of the half and allowing the clock to expire, the Seahawks easily could have been trailing a three-win team at halftime.
Nursing a slim 14-13 lead, the Seahawks received a fortunate break midway through the third quarter when a defensive holding call against linebacker Hassan Reddick negated a fumble returned for a touchdown by cornerback Patrick Peterson. Linebacker Chandler Jones had gotten to Wilson, who the Cardinals tortured to a tune of six sacks on the afternoon, and knocked the football free, allowing Peterson to scoop and score.
In a 14-point swing, Seattle seized its latest opportunity, using a 61-yard run by Carson and a 15-yard touchdown run by Mike Davis to extend the lead to eight points.
Unfortunately, Seattle’s special teams continued to be anything but special, giving the underdogs life once again.
Dickson, who said he never had a punt blocked during his collegiate career at Texas, had his second punt of the game blocked by defensive end Cameron Malveaux late in the third quarter. Following the deflection, Gardeck made his second significant play of the game, recovering the football in the end zone for a touchdown.
When pressed about Seattle’s troubles protecting Dickson, Carroll was aggravated about lack of execution and felt field position played a key role in Arizona hanging around until the end of regulation.
“We’ve got to go to work. On the first punt block, it was just a regular guy forcing the punt, and he broke down the edge and got a hand on the ball. I don’t know about the other one. But the whole field position thing just messed this game up totally. We could have lost just because of that.”
With the game on the line, however, Wilson stepped up as he’s done so many times in the past for the Seahawks.
After Gonzalez snuck a 55-yard field goal over the crossbar to knot the game at 24 apiece with 1:49 left in the game, Wilson bought time scrambling to his right, allowing Lockett to slip behind coverage. Finding an opening, Wilson connected with him for a 37-yard gain along the right sideline to move the Seahawks to the opposing 25-yard line.
“We love those moments, to be honest with you. We wish the game was better, we wish that we had played better throughout the game, the whole entire game. When there’s 1:49 on the clock, we look forward to those moments. We believe that we are going to make those moments happen.”
Following Lockett’s explosive reception, Carson ran for 13 yards on two carries and Wilson kneeled to position kicker Sebastian Janikowski for a game-winning field goal with only three seconds remaining.
Atoning for some recent misses, Janikowski came through in the clutch with a 33-yard field goal between the uprights as time expired, allowing the Seahawks to escape with their sixth win in seven games.
Optimistic as always despite a sluggish, at times uninspired performance, Carroll believes winning ugly could “come in handy” as the Seahawks begin preparation for a date with the Cowboys, who they will face next Saturday night in the Wild Card round.
“Whenever we continue to play good on defense and we run the ball really well, we’ve got a chance to be in every game, and with all of the other garbage that happened in this game that would offset the field position, we were able to maintain the game.”
Maintaining the game proved to be enough against an underwhelming Cardinals squad, but as Carroll will attest, that won’t cut it in January. If the Seahawks can’t protect Wilson more effectively and special teams play remains problematic, their return to the postseason will be a short-lived one.